Please first of all understand I am no casual Magic: The Gathering fan.
I started playing in 2009 and was immediately hooked. I began amassing a collection that amounted to an estimated 20,000-plus cards. I played nearly every week, honing my skills at Standard, Modern and EDH. I completed viable Tron, WB Tokens, and BR 8Rack decks. I was a frequent quest on a popular Magic podcast, MTGYou. I played MODO for a while and was a constant card trader on Puca Trade and other services. When I could, I participated in pre-releases and other tournaments. I subscribed to monthly Magic mail-order services.
For the better part of a decade, Magic was my #1 hobby.
And then, it wasn’t.
Starting late last year, I began liquidating much of my collection, selling off my high-value cards, my bulk, keeping only about 10 percent of my collection.
Magic had just… lost its magic for me.
And here’s why:
1. Difficulty finding the time and the players.
In a job with an ever-shifting schedule, it’s hard to keep up a steady time to play, especially with increasing family demands on top of work. For a time I was able to play in the early afternoons, but my friend/opponent’s schedule changed and that scotched that opportunity after about a year or so. Those factors also generally preclude me from playing at pre-releases and FNMs.
Additionally, beyond organizing your cards and building a deck, there’s little that you can really do with Magic in a hobby sense when you’re not actually playing the game. And you can only re-organize your cards so often.
2. The Money Game.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, let me break it down for you: Magic is expensive. The game thrives on an ever-shifting Standard metagame, which requires players to keep buying packs and boxes of the cards “in rotation.” I would generally buy a new or “repack” box of a set once it came out, but at roughly $100 a pop, that’s a lot of money to shell out each year for pieces of pretty cardboard. And if you want to play Modern, those decks can easily run into the hundreds of dollars even for a low-level deck.
I’ve also long been discouraged by the focus on “value” in Magic. Too, too many players look at their cards like others look at stocks and commodities: as pieces of property that can be held to gain in value so they can either trade them or, more likely, sell them off at a later date. Card prices fluctuate wildly based on many factors, not least of which is whether a card does well in tournaments, which are increasingly streamed online.
Whether Wizards of the Coast likes to admit it or not, part of the driving popularity of Magic for many players is the prospect of opening a pack and getting a high-value card. The fact that more and more varieties of ultra-rare special cards are finding their way into sets seems to prove my point for me.
The focus of Magic should be fun, but too often, it’s not. I’ve discussed this both on this blog and also on the digital airwaves, but the focus on “competition” in Magic, I feel, is largely responsible for a number of the ills people have complained about in the game’s culture (which I’ll get to below). The game’s chief cheerleader, Mark Rosewater, long ago defined three types of players: Timmy, who plays the game more for its aesthetic appeal; Johnny, who adds to that an interest in healthy competition; and Spike, the player with the killer instinct.
Too often, the game seems to attract “Spikes” into the ranks of players. Again, whether WotC will admit it or not, the game’s tenets tacitly take aim at players with the hope of becoming “power players”: if you have the right cards, and the right deck, you can rule your local scene. Maybe get into a PTQ. Maybe go on the Pro Tour.
I’ll admit I was caught up in the kind of thought. That’s what drew me into Modern, into the competitive play of that bouncing format. Until I realized I was building decks, full of expensive cards, that I’d likely only use a couple times a year, if that, in actual competitive play. I felt like a chump. And it’s difficult to keep up with the shifting metagame of any format - new deck lists, new strategies, new articles, are all continually being churned out by the Magic-industrial complex to keep players hungry for the next leg-up on their opponents.
4. Cultural Toxicity.
The competition I talked about above seems to bring a certain type of player into the scene. Magic has drawn criticism in recent years for being surrounded by a toxic gaming culture. How female players are treated; the infamous “crackgate” incident, which drew some mainstream media attention; and a number of high-profile cheating scandals have combined to make it seem to some that the game’s social aspect is broken.
I’ve encountered this aggressive Magic “bro-culture” on a number of occasions, and it’s one reason I don’t enjoy playing in tournaments. I always try to be courteous and engender a sense of collegiality when I play, so I dislike it intensely when, for instance, a player says not a word to me, proceeds to beat me soundly in three straight games, and then after a perfunctory “good game” walks off; when, after you win a match, your opponent, who’s been snickering with his friend the whole time you’ve played, acts as though you had no business even playing against him anyway (let alone beating him), picks up his deck, and leaves; or, when, after being beaten, my opponent decides to outline for me point by point all the mistakes I made. This kind of aggressive “Alpha”-type player isn’t a great ambassador for the game and, unfortunately, is one reason why Magic has the reputation it does in some quarters.
I still love Magic. I still get together with a group of my friends every once in a while and play EDH. And, to be totally honest, the positive interactions I’ve had resulting from this game outnumber the bad. But for the reasons outlined above, I had to step back. Step away. Put the value of my cards, my time, and my energy, to better use.
I had to find the magic somewhere else.